Ashlyn Anderson, Lauren Dickey, Darcie Draudt, William Piekos, Ariella Rotenberg, and Sharone Tobias look at the top stories in Asia today.
1. Forty-four commandos killed in the Philippines. On January 25, forty-four commandos in the Philippine Special Action Force (SAF) were slain in a firefight with two Muslim rebel groups in the southern province of Maguindanao. The area in which the raid took place is currently held by the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) who signed a peace deal with the government last year to end years of fighting; MILF was apparently uninformed of the planned raid. The team of 392 had been deployed to capture two high-value terror suspects: suspected bombmaker Abdul Basit Usman and Malaysian Zulkifli Bin Hir, also known as Marwan. President Benigno Aquino held a ceremony to honor those killed and urged the nation to support the ongoing peace process.
2. China clamps down further on the Internet. China’s Internet filter, called the Great Firewall, has made it more difficult for users using virtual private networks (VPNs), which help circumvent blocked websites like Facebook, Twitter, Google, and the New York Times, and are heavily relied upon by expats and businesspeople in China. Blocking VPNs has also hurt Chinese businesses, engineers, and academics trying to access information from abroad. At the same time, many Chinese technology companies have been able to flourish because of the lack of foreign competition, an essential part of China’s new search for “cyber sovereignty.”
3. After Obama’s visit, Indian ambassador to the United States appointed foreign secretary. In the immediate wake of President Barack Obama’s lauded trip to India, the Indian government appointed a new foreign secretary, Dr. Subrahmanyam Jaishankar—the Indian ambassador to the United States until this Wednesday. He replaced Sujatha Singh, an appointee of the previous Indian government whose tenure was “curtailed” with immediate effect. Jaishankar is regarded as a highly competent diplomat with a breadth of experience. His management of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to the United States in September impressed the Indian government, and many are claiming the U.S.-India relationship has reached a turning point after Obama’s visit for Republic Day celebrations earlier this week.
4. Alibaba investigated for fake goods in state regulatory white paper. China’s State Administration for Industry and Commerce (SAIC) released a white paper of an investigation into the online sale of counterfeit goods by e-commerce sites owned by Alibaba. The paper alleged that Alibaba allowed fake alcohol, cigarettes, and luxury goods to be sold by vendors, and that staff took bribes from merchants to boost their search rankings. Alibaba called the report an “inaccurate and unfair attack,” and accused a top SAIC official of “procedural misconduct” and “irrational enforcement of the law.” On Friday, however, Alibaba Chairman Jack Ma met with the head of SAIC, agreeing to fight counterfeit goods together. The report resulted in a 4.4 percent drop in New York-traded shares on Wednesday, and another 8.8 percent on Thursday after disappointing revenue growth in the fourth quarter of 2014. Alibaba raised $25 billion from investors last year in the world’s largest-ever initial public offering.
5. Malaysia declares MH370 an accident; new information on AirAsia crash emerges. The Malaysian government has officially declared the disappearance of MH370 an accident with all 239 onboard presumed dead after the Beijing-bound plane disappeared on March 8, 2014. While the declaration cleared the way for Malaysia Airlines to pay compensation to families, officials have made clear that the systematic search of the Indian Ocean will continue. New developments in the investigation of the AirAsia Flight 8501 crash suggest that the pilots cut power to a critical computer system normally used to prevent planes from going out of control. The co-pilot was in charge of the aircraft as it climbed abruptly, losing lift, and ultimately plunging into the Java Sea.
BONUS: A historic McDonald’s in Hangzhou? McDonald’s has applied to lease the home of former Taiwanese leader Chiang Ching-kuo, son of Chiang Kai-shek, on the historic West Lake in Hangzhou. The outcry from the public has been swift, with one Weibo user asking, "Can we turn Mao’s old house into a KFC?"